Jamal Murray’s ACL tear may doom Nuggets’ title hopes

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A fantastic season for the Nuggets has suddenly been put on shaky ground by the news of Jamal Murrary’s season-ending ACL injury.

The Nuggets lost more than just a game last night. The Warriors won behind a 53-point explosion from Stephen Curry but the biggest story of the night was a Jamal Murray being helped off the court after suffering a leg injury in the final minutes of the game. This morning, it was reported that he had suffered an ACL tear in his left knee.

No recovery timeline or details about surgery accompanied the initial announcement but it seems likely this removes Murray from the Nuggets’ lineup for at least the rest of the season. He was spectacular during last season’s deep playoff run and while Nikola Jokic’s MVP campaign has been fueling Denver this season, Murray is just as important. He had been averaging 21.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc for the first time in his career.

Can the Nuggets still make a playoff run without Jamal Murray?

The Nuggets were always going to be a darkhorse championship contender but they had a reasonable shot this year. Before Murray’s injury was announced, 538’s NBA prediction model gave them a nine percent chance of winning it all — tied with the Lakers for the fifth-best mark in the league.

But even that number may have underestimated the Nuggets’ chances considering their evolution since trading for Aaron Gordon. He had given them a strong defensive anchor and really bought into maximizing his efficiency as a complementary finisher around Murray and Jokic. In the five games they’d played together since the trade, the Nuggets had outscored opponents by an average of 19.2 points per 100 possessions with all three on the floor.

The Nuggets are thin in the backcourt since sending out Gary Harris in the Gordon trade and will likely have to lean on Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo in Murray’s absence. Morris has played well but he’s at his best in a supporting role and Campazzo would have, ideally, been largely excised from a shortened playoff rotation. Instead, the Nuggets will need both to step up as well as any help they can find on the buyout market.

It’s a heart-breaking result for the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic will keep them competitive and give them a chance in any playoff game. But this just isn’t the same team without Jamal Murray and that’s a heartbreaking reality for Denver.

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